By Brent Moore, CSCS

Many athletes, fitness enthusiasts, recreational weight lifters, and unfortunately some trainers believe that the training load necessary for people to reach their goals is similar despite training age, ability, or desires. The athletic population, to include tactical athletes such as military members, firefighters, and police, has distinct needs when it comes to training, which often dictates their goals. General fitness and health conscious exercisers have goals often based on their desire to feel better, look better, or be healthier. Some people want to lose weight, while others want to gain muscle or develop a leaner build, whereas others want to be able to run faster jump further, or lift more weight. A knowledgeable and motivated trainer can develop a program that has the proper training load combined with appropriate movements in order to achieve the desired results of his athlete or client in the least amount of time possible.

Training load refers to the total cumulative load placed on an individual during a given time period. Within the training load, there are several factors that combine to create the training effect. These factors are the training potential of the client, the magnitude, duration, and intensity of the exercises performed, the concentration of load place on the client over time, the specificity of movements utilized, and the separation of strength load, speed development and perfection of technique (Verkhoshansky & Siff, 2006). There are several ways to determine the specific load that should be used in order to illicit the ideal result. This can be accomplished through one repetition maximum testing, estimated one repetition max testing, and multiple repetitions max testing. The results of these tests can then be used to assign a specific load for a given exercise based on a percentage of the one repetition or multiple repetitions max for the purpose of achieving the desired goal.

In order for adaptation to occur within the body, a stimulus sufficient to cause fatigue has to be placed upon the body followed by substantial rest. In the case of resistance training, the stimulus placed on the body causes damage to the muscles which the body needs rest, regeneration techniques, and proper nutrition in order to repair the damage before it can properly adapt. The stimulation-fatigue-recovery-adaptation theory states that if no new training stimulus is placed upon the body after recovery and adaptation are completed, then the body will begin to decline in performance and adaptation will be lost (Hoffman, 2012). This means that in order to obtain results in the most ideal timeline, stimulus must be placed on the muscles desired to adapt as soon as possible once recovery and adaptation is complete. This ideal timeline varies depending on how great of a training load is placed on the muscles. The greater the training load placed on the muscles is, the longer the time necessary for recovery and adaptation will be (Hoffman, 2012).

Most people want to look at the programs of bodybuilders to determine the ideal training load for resistance training, and this was the way things were done for many years. In more recent years, the training styles of athletes have become more common and better known. The study of resistance training and exercise science has become more popular as well, leading to a better understanding of proper training for specific goals. Most people do not have the time, motivation, or money necessary to complete bodybuilding programs, and many of the programs that bodybuilders use are completed with the assistance of supplementation and performance enhancing drugs that aid in recovery and adaptation.

Weight loss training is achieved through creating a negative energy balance, i.e. more calories expended than taken in. The issue that arises in many weight loss programs is the loss of fat-free mass in conjunction with the loss of fat mass. The goal for most weight loss clients is to lose fat mass without regard to the loss of fat-free mass. Fat-free mass is any mass that does not include fat, and in weight loss regimens, this most often in the form of muscle loss. The problem with losing muscle mass during a weight loss program is that losing muscle causes the resting metabolic rate to drop, which slows the progress of the overall weight loss program. Combining strength training, or more specifically hypertrophy training, with metabolic programming can ensure that clients will not lose too much fat-free mass in the weight loss process and keep the resting metabolic rate high, often times increasing it.

Hypertrophy training, training to increase the size of muscles, typically requires a higher training volume. The result is a higher number of repetitions per set. The specific number of repetitions and sets varies from one source to another, but typically range from three to six sets of six to twelve repetitions for each exercise. Training for strength, as in the person who wants to increase their bench press max, requires a load of about two to six sets of less than six repetitions for a given exercise. Power training, such as done by Olympic power lifters, requires about three to five sets of one to five repetitions. In order for the body to adapt to the loads placed on the body through these sets, sufficient recovery must be allowed followed by a repeated stimulus in a timely manner.

When completing any training program, the goal is to stress a muscle at the right time, which means not re-damaging a muscle that has yet to recover, and also not allowing too much time before placing another stimulus upon the muscle group. A good measurement for any exerciser is to determine if they feel too sore to train the same muscle group again, in which case, they should probably allow more time for recovery and implement some regeneration strategies such as foam rolling and trigger point therapy.  Decreasing the overall load on a single muscle during a single bout of exercise can allow the exerciser to retrain the same muscle group within the same week without fear of overtraining or inability to complete the desired exercises. The muscles can then be re-stressed and adaptation can be achieved more quickly through a cumulative load training approach. Stressing a muscle group twice within one week can be a great place to start with program development, given that the load during the initial training session is not too great and require more recovery time.

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Hoffman, J. (2012). NSCA’s guide to program design. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. (2009). Supertraining (6th ed. – Expanded ed.). Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky ;.